# PLAYING WITHOUT ANY PAIN OR DISCOMFORT: part one

Ester’s First Lesson concerning playing without discomfort or pain

My student Ester is probably in her seventies.  Playing piano is painful for her.  However, she loves music and does not want to stop playing.

I said that “we will search for a way to play piano that avoids pain and discomfort.

As we proceed with our first explorations today, monitor you pain level.  As soon as there is a hint of pain, stop.

First experiment:

Join your two hands together.  You can for instance interlace the fingers of both hands.

Now move around the ‘combined’ hands.  Up, down, left, right, oscillating.  Any motion whatsoever.

The first thing you will notice is that while moving this conjoined arm, there is little awareness of what your right (or left) arm is doing versus the other arm.  They are fused  a single ‘super arm’.

This single, super-arm, is shaped basically like a circle.  If you start where your right hand is, you can follow the ‘circumference’ of this circle by going up your right arm to your shoulder, then pass along the bone that connects the shoulder to the spine, and then from the spine to the other shoulder.  Then come down the left arm until you reach the point where you began.  As long as the hands are joined, and make any motion whatsoever, you are moving the circle-shaped fusion of the arms through space.

You can even move this ‘circle’ downwards until meeting the keyboard.  If you want you can produce random sounds that way at the keyboard.

With the use of this extended entity – the circle of the arms – there is little that could happen that would produce strain or discomfort in any muscle within this circle when making sounds with the entire structure.

# PLAYING WITHOUT ANY PAIN OR DISCOMFORT: part two

Second Experiment:

2A.

We create the circle as in the first experiment, but now the point of contact between the two hands are the tips of the second fingers.  While in the first experiment you joined the hands together by interleaving all the fingers, you still have a complete circle, just as solid and integral as before, though there is an isthmus where only the tip of one second finger lies on top of the tip of the other second finger.  Pretty much the lower surface of one finger, from the first knuckle to the tip, is lying on top of the same part of the other second finger.  It does not matter which finger is on top and which is on bottom.  In fact, it is better if, in what follows, you proceed in a way where you are indifferent to which hand’s finger is on top of the other.

Use this version of the arm-circle to play a single note.  We’ll take middle C as an example.  Play the note a number of times.  Try to notice that you are unaware of which arm or finger is doing more than the other.  It is the conjoint action of the two fingers (and the two arms) which depress the key to make a sound.

As with the first experiment, there is little that could happen that would produce strain or discomfort in any muscle within this circle when including the muscles in the second fingers.

Once you have established this basic method of making a sound, we gradually introduce variations, but in such a way that we never loose ‘touch’ with the integrity of the entire circle of the arms.

# PLAYING WITHOUT ANY PAIN OR DISCOMFORT: part three

Second Experiment continued:

Some ways to introducing variations in the basic pattern.

2B.

During a series of eight or more Middle-C-s change which finger is on top of which, the goal being no change whatsoever in the quality or intensity or resonance of the sounds, or in the feeling of the muscles in the body.  We are trying to prolong and extend a certain sensation and sound through an increasing set of changes.  But  inertia* should always win out.  We insist on never loosing the original sound and feeling.  If we do, we stop right away, and go back one or more steps.  This will apply to each change we make in what we are playing.  If we loose the prolongation of the quality of the sound and the feeling in our body, we stop, and we go back as many steps in the process, as is required to create a return to the original body/ear state.

*inertia: not in the sense of lack of activity or energy but in the sense that once a body is in motion it will continue in that motion unless otherwise impacted.

# PLAYING WITHOUT ANY PAIN OR DISCOMFORT: part four

Second Experiment continued:

Some ways to introducing variations in the basic pattern.  Part two.

2C.

During a series of Middle-C-s we randomly (or better put: without any anticipation that we are doing so) we separate the two second fingers, just far enough apart, that  only one is in touch with the sounding key.

Over many iterations, the percentage of notes played with the conjoint hands gradually diminishes and the percentage of notes played with either one hand or the other correspondingly increases.  As in all the above cases, and all the cases to come, the basic goal of the exercise is that there should be no noticeable change in sound or in body sensation.  Another way of saying this is that union of the two arms is the fixed, normative state.  When one finger plays it still feels like both fingers are playing.  One may call this an ‘illusion’ but it an illusion with great effect, able to transform our way of playing the piano.

# PLAYING WITHOUT ANY PAIN OR DISCOMFORT: part six

Second Experiment continued:

2E.

Once you can play two adjacent notes, using one of the two second fingers on each note, with the feeling of one melded hand, you can experiment with separating the second fingers further and further apart, without losing the sense that the fingers are still superimposed, the hands still linked, and no difference in sensation in one arm versus the other.

One can do c-d for a while then experiment with c-e for a while, c-f, etc..  Later one can try doing fewer and fewer iterations of each pair of notes before enlarging their mutual distance.  Eventually you can do only one iteration of each: c-c c-d c-e c-f . . . . as far as you can go and retain the original sensation of oneness.  Once you can do it in an organized pattern, one can experiment with a more random sequence of notes, wherein any change of horizontal distance is rendered unconscious and the inertial sense of  conjoint hands persists without even slight moments of alteration.

Whatever the objective distance is between the two second fingers, subjectively one still feels a tangible connection between them: a shunt, a cross piece, connecting rung if a ladder, that holds together the two vertical sides of the ladder.  So that activity is  never felt as happening in one hand or the other.  That even if you tried to notice a difference you could not ‘find’ it in your inner sensations of the muscles (a little self  hypnosis is useful here).* Even the ‘location’ of the sensation of playing, is in the  imaginary cross piece.  This cross piece always completes the circumference of the circle which originally without interruption and unbroken at any point along the circumference, and which should still be felt so.

*To help with the feeling of the connecting rod, place a pencil or other thing and long object over the two hands, and create the feeling the sounds are being made by the single vertical action of the pencil and not by the separate parts of the anatomy.